The word "Rhône" comes from Latin Rhodanus, which itself comes from ancient Greek Rhodanos, the Greek rendering of the Gaulish (Celtic) name of the river, as heard by the Greeks living in the colony of Massalia (Marseille). The Celtic name of the river, Rodo or Roto, literally "that which rolls", or "that which runs", is a frequent name of rivers among the Celts.
The river rises near the Rhône Glacier in Valais, Switzerland, in the Saint-Gotthard massif, at an altitude of 1753 meters. Up to Martigny, it is a torrent; it then becomes a large mountain river running Southwest through a glacier valley. It turns Northwest to leave the Alps and then flows west through Lake Geneva before entering France.
At Arles the Rhône divides into two arms with all branches flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. One arm is called the "Grand Rhône", the other one is the "Petit Rhône". Between them and the sea is the river delta, known as the Camargue, home to a unique range of wildlife including Camargue Bulls and Camargue Horses
The Rhône is an important route for inland navigation, connecting the industrial cities of Arles, Avignon, Valence, Vienne and Lyon to the Mediterranean Sea ports of Fos, Marseille and Sète. The Rhône is developed as a class V waterway from the mouth of the Saône to the sea. The Saône river, which is also canalized, connects the Rhône ports to the cities of Villefranche, Macon and Chalons. Smaller vessels (up to CEMT class I) can travel further North-West, North and North-East via the Centre-Loire-Briare and Loing Canals to the Seine river, via the Canal de la Marne à la Saône (often called the "Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne") to the Marne, via the Canal des Vosges (formerly the "Canal de l'Est - Branche Sud" to the Moselle and via the Canal du Rhône au Rhin to the Rhine.
The Rhône valley is responsible for funneling the famous Mistral wind into the Camargue and Provence. Lesser winds traveling the same route and drying any precipitation are responsible for the conditions favourable to wine making. It was also down this great river valley that the French swept in 1208 to wreak havoc on the people of the Languedoc and persecute the Cathars, and later to create the Inquisition and to annex the Languedoc to France.